Over the course of this blog I have mentioned many heroes that I have admired over the years. Heroes that I would like to aspire to due to the qualities they possess. Spider-man would be the most obvious superhero I’ve talked about. I loved the character as a kid. I read the comics, I watched the cartoon Spider-man and his amazing friends and the later 90’s cartoon. Along with the X-Men, they were the heroes for my young self and for a while I was more Marvel then DC.
In all honesty I’ve never really considered myself a Batman fan. I can’t recall reading any of the comics or watching the cartoons although I did use to watch repeats of the old 60’s series. I also remember going to watch Batman at the local cinema in 1989 and although I watched the four prequels I didn’t think they were that good. A couple of years ago I decided on a re watch of the films as I had them on DVD. I watched the first, fell asleep half way through the second and never went back. When the reboot came out I wasn’t that enthralled and it was a while before I watched both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I have never watched the third movie. Likewise although I thought Ben Affleck did a good enough job in Batman vs Superman I wasn’t a fan and still haven’t watched Justice League. I got through two series of Gotham before, due to Channel Five dropping it from their schedules, giving up and although I may go back to it sometime in the future I found it very dark and also long winded. Likewise apart from the more common elements associated with the character I know very little of the long history of the hero.
And yet thinking about it tonight I find Batman merchandise is the second most numerous items I own. (Of course number one is Doctor Who merchandise, if there was any doubt).
I have an action figure, a number of t-shirts which I wear more often than other items of clothing. A Batman floor mat and a large picture of the various Bat symbols over the years (presents from my Brother and family) and the Arkham series of games for the PlayStation. Recently I’ve just brought a pair of Batman earrings which I’m actually wearing right now along with a Bat symbol t-shirt. As such I’ve started to take more of an interest in the character recently watching the Killing Joke and Gotham by Moonlight.
So what is it about this character that has such a hold on me despite my lack of interest in his films or comics? Well there is the bat symbol. Like Doctor Who’s Tardis it is instantly recognisable and in fact the symbol is even used to call Batman to action lighting up the skies of Gotham. True much of what I own is dominated by that symbol but not everything and the image of Batman himself looks cool. I would rally love a change to wear a Batman costume to a costume party or something because it looks so good.
What we have with Batman, and I’ve mentioned this before (see Secret Identities – Not just for superheroes), is a hero who hasn’t got superpowers. He is a hero who has worked to become a hero through learning martial arts and science and of course developing great detecting skills being dubbed the world’s greatest detective. There is something appealing about a vigilante who takes on criminals just using the skills he’s learnt and not some power he has endowed with.
This is in some way the reason I like Arrow apart from his skill with a bow. I came to Arrow through watching the Flash and I think that season one is one of the best. It has Oliver Queen just going up against criminals’ way before Meta humans, magicians, aliens or alternate Earth Nazi’s. There was a sense of realism to this first series. Rather like Hawkeye in the Avengers when we see Green Arrow up against a super villain their skills seems rather lightweight compared to speedsters, ancient Gods and magic users.
Batman as well I think works better when against ordinary villains such as the Joker, Riddler and Ra Al Ghul. Put him with super beings too often and he can seem the weakest link although there are some interesting stories that explores those themes.
I also love looking at the philosophy and psychology behind the character himself. We all know the tragedy that led him to take up the mantle of crime fighter but there is also how that affects him until it is unclear whether he is truly Bruce Wayne or Batman. It reminds me of a quote I used for my own novel. Perhaps it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be. While I was writing my novel and working on the themes of identity it was the complexity of Batman that was in the back of my mind.
So what we get is a very dark complex character (well if you ignore the 60’s series that is) who still doesn’t cross that line where he would intentionally kill a villain. Whether he is seen as a vigilante hiding from the police or on call whenever they need him, he has one mission and that is to help save his city. Despite any psychological issues that he has, despite any limitations he is a person who is ready to step up to the fight when needed. He may not be a role model to me but it seems there are still some things that I can take from the character.
I’ve been thinking a lot about secret identities recently. In my novel the main character is a guy who is a cross dresser and develops a female alter ego who slowly starts to take over. In a recently written scene where my character is having a bit of a crisis about who he is and who he wants to be he has a dream which ends with him reviling he/she is Supergirl. The dream as I wrote it is meant to represent my character embracing who they really are. It symbolises the two identities in his life.
Now this is a novel I started years ago in university as part of my course (I took a novel writing module in my third year.) It was to write a first chapter and I got a B grade and was pleased with the piece. I always felt it was worth finishing so after a bit of a break, both in time and relationship I returned to writing early last year. Currently I’m on chapter eighteen which is where I wrote the dream sequence. Now I have a rough plan in my head where the novel is going but not specifics and the dream sequence was thought up yesterday on the spot. That said it felt that there was something familiar about it that stuck in the back of my head until suddenly at 3am this morning I remembered why. Part of the module all those years ago in uni had been to write chapter one of the novel. The other assignment had revolved around a 500 word essay about the influences on the novel. And it was in part of that assignment where I mentioned Batman as an influence. I had ‘forgotten’ it until now although the theme was still in my head.
It also got me re thinking about secret identities, something that has always fascinated me. After all the first two heroes in the role model blogs both have secret identities. There is always the thrill when I see Adam turn to He-man, something as a kid I acted out numerous times. He goes from the weak Prince Adam to the strongest man in the universe, hero of Eternal. An actual physical change. There is the whole underlying masturbation metaphor of a boy turning into a man, secret powers that were revealed when he held aloft his magic sword but we won’t got into that right now. (err just how many of my heroes actually weld swords?)
Then there is Spider-man. Of course his costume, like other costumed heroes, is to protect his secret identity and therefore keep him and their his family safe but we also notice that often Peter Parker feels freer as Spider-man swinging about town. He is metaphorically raising above his troubles. He can appear to be more confident as spider-man then Parker especially in his early high school days. So like my character the alter ego in the ‘costume’ allows them to have more freedom and to be whom they’d like to be. However in the movie Spider-man 2 we see how there is a struggle with the duel identities.
But of course earlier I mentioned Batman. Batman is a fascinating case because even though it is Bruce Wayne starting out as Batman it can be a bit confusing to who the secret identity is. After his parents die young Bruce embarks upon a mission to train himself to fight crime. He learns martial arts, the sciences. He trains himself to be the world’s best detective. He uses his wealth to build the various gadgets and vehicles he’ll need. The only reason he uses a costume is that he needed something that would help install fear in his enemies. In the meantime he portrays Bruce Wayne as a carefree party animal. It raises the question which is really the secret identity. Batman or Bruce Wayne. There is a case to be made that the real person here is the one who goes out dressed up as a bat. It was this blurred line that I wanted to install in my novel with the male and female alter egos being blurred to who was the real person and who was the lie. Which identity hid the real person? Like in Spider-man 2 I wanted this to be a struggle between the two identities.
I’m going to side step a minute to talk about Batman. There is something fascinating about him so much so that I had thought about doing a blog just on him. I think as kids many of us have a superhero we’d like to be mainly because they have some great power. But with Batman he becomes a hero though hard work, determination and discipline. He is (if rather unlikely) a hero that anyone could become. After all anyone could train in martial arts. Others can train their minds to solve complex crimes or become a forensic expert. And with money you could use technology to build gadgets. Batman represents the pinnacle of what mankind could achieve without the added benefits of some supernatural ability. Obviously there are many other heroes that fall into this category and Batman is simply an example of one. The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of the earliest. But there is a realism to these types of hero even if the feats they perform are not and today there are some people out there that do go out as costumed heroes.
Anyway returning to the themes of my novel for a moment while the Batman/Bruce Wayne theme runs through it the dream sequence has Supergirl. Why? Well when you think about it Supergirl (and for that matter Superman) is the secret identity. It is in fact Kara (and Clark) who is the mask with which she hide behind. For my character it is telling him to discard the secret identity he is hiding under and emerge as the more powerful true alter ego.
There are I’m guessing many people out there that have secret identities or wish they had. Some may want to be heroes. Some just may want to be a different version of themselves. And some may want to be the person they would love to be but are too scared to be that person. They have to go into the real world hiding their real selves away. For those brave enough to dare take their alter ego out into the world there is of course the real fear that their secret identity may be found out. And to those who have had their Supergirl/Superman moment I say well done even if tinted with more than a hint of jealousy.
Of course it is lucky that for my character that he can pass easily for a woman even though he carries the fear of being found out. There is of course a bit of myself woven throughout the novel. Well they say to write about what you know. For myself I’ve been pushing my boundaries a little bit. Kind of testing my abilities. Little trials hidden in darkness. No great launch of my alter ego into the world. (Although I really would like a supergirl fancy dress outfit) Rather like Bruce Wayne I would have to put in a lot of disciplined hard work first. No magical way to transform myself in a blaze of energy into someone different and I’m still not sure who I really am yet anyway. I’ll carry on for the moment living in my secret identity. Maybe one day one of the pics on here will be ‘me’.